Big names from the small screen: In our series on leading lights in British business, Jason Nisse scans the top ranks of television

THE television industry used to split neatly into two halves - the BBC and ITV. Gradually the picture has become much more complex, but despite the continuing encroachment of nasty commercialism in the BBC, it is still largely a distinct kingdom, and the king is John Birt.

The 48-year-old Liverpudlian does not take up the post of director-general until next year, but he made his presence felt within the institution as deputy director-general, sacking people, cancelling editions of Panorama, making strange and interesting appointments and generally shaking the BBC tree to see what would drop out.

Looking after Mr Birt's first love of current affairs is Samir Shah, 39, his sidekick at LWT. It was Mr Shah who actually pulled the plug on Sliding into Slump, the Panorama programme on the UK recession due to be shown shortly before the general election.

BBC1 is run by Jonathan Powell, the husband of Sally Brampton, the former Elle editor. His star may be on the wane after the failure of Eldorado. BBC2 comes under Alan Yentob.

Known as a risk-taker, the 45-year-old Mr Yentob has brought a settled look to the BBC2 schedule and is well placed in the BBC hierarchy. He has the advantage of close friendships in the commercial sector - notably with Michael Green of Carlton Communications and Greg Dyke of LWT - should the tide turn.

A name to watch within the BBC is Michael Jackson. The 34-year-old son of a Cheshire baker, he became the BBC's youngest-ever department head last year, when he was put in charge of music and arts. However, he is best known for creating The Late Show, the nightly arts programme.

Within ITV, there are many candidates for the most powerful figure in the brave new era ushered in by the Broadcasting Act, which begins on 1 January.

On the face of it, the prize should go to Mr Green, chairman of Carlton Communications, which not only controls the company that won the London weekday franchise from Thames TV, but also has 20 per cent of Central TV, 20 per cent of Good Morning TV, the new breakfast service, and some of the best production facilities in Britain.

Mr Green is charming and affable, but is intensely sensitive about his image and has lost a large number of talented subordinates during his rise to the top.

He employed Nigel Walmsley, who at Capital Radio won a reputation as the best operator in commercial radio, as head of his TV side. Mr Walmsley, a former marketing director at the Post Office, commands great loyalty from those who have worked with him and likes to run his own shop. Many in the industry expect fireworks from this relationship.

A strong rival to Mr Green in the hierarchy is Mr Dyke, the blunt managing director of LWT, who has the best connections in the industry. Mr Dyke came to prominence when, as director of programmes at TV-am, he ditched the mission to explain and drafted in Roland Rat, a move that helped turn the station from a stretcher case into the world's most profitable TV company.

His acolytes have moved into various positions of power within ITV. Of these none is more important than Marcus Plantin, LWT's head of programming, who has just been named network controller. The position, through which all ITV programmes are allocated, is perhaps the most important in ITV, though Mr Plantin will be answerable to Andrew Quinn, formerly of Granada TV, now chief executive of ITV. Mr Plantin is a former floor manager who once loaded the prizes on to the Generation Game conveyor belt. He is credited with developing Blind Date and discovering Hale and Pace.

Mr Dyke's number two at TV-am was Clive Jones, who now runs the London News Service, a Carlton/LWT joint venture to provide news for those companies and GMTV. This operation may be in a position, come 1994, to bid against ITN to provide news for the whole ITV network.

Two men to watch are Tim Wooton, the head of TSMS, the very successful joint Central/Anglia TV advertising company, and Ian Ritchie, the managing director of Tyne-Tees who steered the company into a merger with Yorkshire TV. Mr Ritchie is well-regarded in the industry and could capitalise on concerns about the future of Clive Leach, managing director of Yorkshire.

Channel 4 will soon be freed from relying on the ITV stations to sell its advertising, giving more power to the already influential Michael Grade, the service's chief executive. There is keen interest to see how Mr Grade, a nephew of the legendary impresario Lord Grade, will handle being his own paymaster.

The merger of Sky TV and British Satellite Broadcasting saved the two satellite networks from collapse, along with the draconian cost-cutting that followed.

The job of building what is now British Sky Broadcasting into a competitive network has fallen to Gary Davey, an Australian who was brought over from Rupert Murdoch's Fox Television in the United States.

He has chosen sport as his Trojan horse, first securing the rights to the World Cup cricket and then, controversially, to the Premier League football. His brother in arms is Dave Hill, another Australian, who heads Sky Sports. If Sky is a broadcasting success, it will be to their credit.

The increasing importance of independent TV producers has brought a whole new class of nimble programme makers, who are not protected by the arms of a large corporation and have to live by their wits.

Most prominent recently has been Denise O'Donoghue, managing director of Hat Trick Productions, whose credits include Drop The Dead Donkey and Whose Line Is It Anyway? for Channel 4 and Have I Got News For You on BBC2. Ms O'Donohue, who is married to the comic Jimmy Mulville, nearly ended her career in the early days of Channel 4 with a risque sketch on Who Dares Wins, which she directed. But despite being told by the then chief executive of Channel 4, Jeremy Isaacs, never to darken the service's doors again, she survived and last year the firm was the third-fastest growing private company in the UK, according to the Independent On Sunday/Price Waterhouse survey.

Charles Denton, chief executive of Zenith Productions, is best known for making Inspector Morse. But that programme was licensed from Central TV and Zenith's real strength is making game shows through its Action Time subsidiary. As the BBC farms out more of this low-budget programming, Zenith looks set to benefit. However, there are question marks about its future ownership since Carlton wants to sell its 51 per cent stake.

(Photographs omitted)

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